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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
THE BLACK DEATH KILLED ALMOST HALF OF EUROPE'S POPULATION. THIS TIME BILLIONS ARE AT RISK.
New Orleans has been quarantined, an unknown virus sweeping the city, killing one hundred percent of those infected. The Centers for Disease Control, desperate to find a cure, is approached by BioDyne Pharma who reveal a former employee has turned a cutting edge medical treatment capable of targeting specific genetic sequences into a weapon, and released it.
CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane has been given one guideline from his boss: consider yourself unleashed, leaving Kane and New Orleans Police Detective Isabelle Laprise battling to stay alive as an insidious disease and terrified mobs spread through the city while they desperately seek those behind the greatest crime ever perpetrated.
The stakes have never been higher as Kane battles to save not only his friends and the country he loves, but all of mankind.
USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy delivers a terrifying tale of what could happen when science goes mad, with enough sorrow, heartbreak, laughs and passion to keep readers on the edge of their seats until the chilling conclusion.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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For Gary and Daryl.
“The idea of infection began to be taken far more seriously than it ever had before. Hospitals transformed themselves in response to the new plague - sometimes for the better, but often for the worse, as when, in fear, they cast their ulcerated patients out into the streets.”
Peter Lewis Allen
“There is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed.”
The Black Death is the most devastating plague in recorded history. At its peak during 1348-1350 AD, it reduced the population of Europe by anywhere from 30 to 60 percent. Europe took 150 years to recover its lost population, and centuries to recover from the religious, political and social chaos that resulted.
Imagine where America would be tomorrow, if today, one hundred fifty million of its citizens were to die, along with half the populations of its trading partners.
The science described in what follows has been simplified for dramatic purposes, however the concepts described are real, and are cutting edge techniques that will be available in the near future. What is described can happen, what motivates it has happened. The horror that unfolds may very well be a scenario that if not we, then our children, will soon face. To dismiss the possibility is to ignore history.
Inside the Quarantine Zone Outbreak Day #11
Kyle Patrick motioned for everyone to get down as a troop transport rolled by, its rear filled with people just like him, desperate to escape the plague ravaging this once proud city. He looked back and gave his parents a slight smile. He could tell his mother was tired. They had been dodging patrols and overhead drones for hours as they made their way through the nearly deserted streets from his parents’ house to the border of the quarantine.
He looked up for a drone or helicopter, and seeing none, moved from around the concrete barrier and inched forward, watching for any additional patrols. Clear, he darted across the road and into an alley, double-checking for any more troops, then motioned the others forward.
His father helped his mother across the road, followed by two more families they had found, both with little children, all equally scared. None of them were displaying symptoms, and none of them wanted that to change. They weren’t infected, but if they stayed within the city limits, they knew they might eventually catch it. When the President had ordered the total containment of the city, they had been shocked, and as the footage continued to play out on television showing tens of thousands of troops surrounding the city, of the airport being shutdown, all outbound flights still in the air being forced to return, train and boat traffic stopped, freeways being shut down, and people being forced back into the city limits at gunpoint by soldiers in hazmat suits, they knew they had to get out of here, and their time was running out.
Within hours the cordon would be complete, and there’d be no means of escape. It had been a family conference like no other. His mother had wanted to stay put and take their chances. Kyle knew she was as scared as they were, but he figured she didn’t feel she could make the journey. Luckily they lived in the outskirts, so the quarantine zone wasn’t that far, and he and his dad had convinced her she could make it. She had proven a trooper, but the exhausted look on her face as his parents cleared the street had him very concerned.
“You guys rest, I’m going to scout ahead.” He pulled out his cellphone and brought up a map of their GPS location. “According to this in less than a quarter mile we’ll hit farmland. We just need to get there, and we’re out of the quarantine zone.” He put a hand on his mother’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll be back in half an hour. You guys keep out of sight and rest.”
Kyle then turned and ran down the alleyway, coming to a halt at the end then quickly looking left and right then up. Clear. He darted across the street, past several more houses, over a fence, through a ditch, then as he crested the top of the ditch and pushed through some tall grass along its edge he suddenly emerged in pristine farmland.
And nearly cried in happiness. Carefully scanning the area, he saw no one, civilian or military. Overhead a drone circled and he scurried back to the ditch, rolling down the side and into the cold mud and water at the bottom. He flipped over on his back, staring up to see if he could spot the drone, but it was out of sight. He pushed himself to his knees, then a crouch, and spotted it leaving to the west.
Climbing up the other side of the ditch, he pulled a pair of cutters from his backpack and cut a hole in the fence so it wouldn’t slow them up when making their escape. He took a swig of water from a bottle, then making sure the coast was clear, quickly returned to where he had left the others.
And they weren’t there.
“Mom! Dad!” he called in a hoarse whisper.
The gnashing of gears and roar of an accelerating engine had him jumping for cover. There was a mandatory stay-at-home order for all non-essential personnel, and he and his parents were definitely non-essential. He didn’t know about the others. He didn’t care. He just needed to get his folks to the other side of the quarantine zone, then to their family in Lafitte who would hide them. A call had already been placed and his uncle would be waiting for them not five miles from here.
Another transport went by, the rear loaded with more people, but from his vantage point, he couldn’t tell if any of them were his parents.
He was starting to get worried.
He scanned the ground for any evidence of a scuffle, but could see nothing. If you had to hide, where would you hide? He spotted a side door to the building he was hugging, and approached. He tapped three times, gingerly.
“It’s me, Kyle!” he said, only as loud as he thought he needed to be heard through the door.
The knob turned and the door opened an inch, then pushed open all the way as he was hauled inside. At first he was shocked, but as soon as the door closed a light flicked on and he was surrounded by his parents and the two other families.
They were all eating food from what looked like a storeroom, filling up on water and apparently using the services of a toilet in the back, the wife of one of the men just exiting, jumping slightly at the sight of him. He looked at himself, realizing he must look a mess from the ditch.
“Oh thank God!” exclaimed his mother, hugging him. “We were so worried!”
“What is this place?”
“Mom and pop store,” said his father. “I tried the door and it was unlocked. We called but there doesn’t seem to be anybody home.”
“They probably buggered out of here when the trouble first hit. They’re so close to the edge of the zone,” said one of the men named Dan, his wife Sophie the one who had just left the bathroom.
“I found a way through. It’s pretty easy, seems clear. We should go now before that changes.” Kyle gripped the doorknob, then looked back. “Is everybody ready?”
Nods from everyone, and a weak smile from his mother, replied.
“I’m going to check to make sure it’s clear, then I’ll give you the signal. Go to the left, to the end of the alley. Hold up there so we can make sure the coast is clear.”
Kyle pushed the door open an inch and looked, then listened. Nothing. He exited quickly, closing the door behind him, then darted to the alley to make sure their rear was covered, then confirming it was clear, returned to the door and knocked. The door opened, and they all filed out as he sprinted ahead to the other end of the alley. Finding it clear, he raced to the other side of the road, took cover, then holding his breath, listened. He could hear almost nothing over the hammering of his own heart. He tried to calm himself as he looked again.
It looked clear.
He held up two fingers, then motioned for them to join him. This was the signal for his parents. They rushed across the street and joined him.
“Go to the end of this street. You’ll see a fence. Just stay out of sight until we join you.” He looked at his mom. “Take your time. I have to wait for the others so there’s no rush.”
His parents continued on at a less hurried pace, and he checked to see if everything was still clear. As he poked his head out, he saw a head in the window of the house the other families were hidden beside. The person was pointing to the right. Kyle looked but didn’t see anything, then leaned out a little farther and gasped. There was a Humvee two blocks down, parked between two buildings, four soldiers in hazmat suits looking at something.
He gave the thumbs up to the person in the house, who quickly disappeared behind their curtain. He peeked back at the Humvee and the team. They still weren’t looking this way.
He motioned for both families to come, rapidly motioning for them to hurry. Dan and Sophie, carrying their kids burst from the alleyway, rushing across the road, as the second family, Frank and Christa, with their one kid in Frank’s arms, followed suit.
Kyle kept urging them on as he watched the soldiers. One began to turn, his arm extending behind him, indicating Kyle’s direction. As all four soldiers began to turn, Frank cleared the road and Kyle ducked out of sight.
“Keep going, all the way to the fence!” he ordered, and without looking back to see if they had been spotted, he raced after them, quickly overtaking them. He reached the last house and joined his parents who appeared to have just arrived. A quick glance showed everything still clear, and no signs of pursuit behind them. He darted across the final road, pushing through the opening he had cut in the fence, then motioning for the others to join him.
His parents came first. His dad pushed through the fence, then they both helped his mother. Kyle pointed ahead. “Down into the ditch, then up the other side. Through some grass and there’s a farmer’s field. We’ll join you there.”
His dad nodded, then gripped Kyle’s shoulder.
“I’m proud of you, son.”
Kyle felt himself choke up. He managed a nod and a smile.
“Go!” he urged.
His dad squeezed his shoulder again, then helped his wife toward the ditch. Kyle checked if everything was clear, then motioned for the other families to come. In less than a minute they were all through the fence and heading for the ditch. Kyle jumped into the mud and saw his parents just clearing the other side. He helped the others down then scrambled up the edge. He took the baby Dan was carrying and placed him on the grass. He reached down and pulled Dan up, who then took care of Sophie and their second child. Kyle helped Frank and Christa with their child, and when they were all successfully out of the ditch, they pushed through the grass to the field and freedom.
He pointed to the other side of the field.
“We just need to get there, across one road, then we can make our way through the fields, keeping out of sight until the next road. We can call my Uncle Charlie to pick us up there.”
A noise above them caused Kyle’s head to pivot up.
It was a drone, approaching from the south. Kyle looked for cover and saw a hedgerow just ahead. “Hide in the hedge!” he yelled, grabbing the other side of his mother and helping his dad nearly carry her the fifty feet to the tall, thick hedge that most likely acted as some sort of windbreak for the farm. They reached it and he pressed his body into the thick cedar, his arms and legs getting scratched up badly.
He felt the hedge shaking as the others did the same, then they all remained quiet as the drone passed overhead. As the drone’s engine slowly faded, he began to breathe a sigh of relief when a thumping sound in the distance rapidly got louder.
“It’s a helicopter!” exclaimed Dan.
“Stay hidden, maybe they can’t see us!” yelled Frank.
A military chopper roared overhead, then banked to face the hedge. It was obvious it knew exactly where they were. Kyle stepped back slightly and looked at his father. It was pretty clear the situation was helpless.
“They won’t shoot us, will they?” he asked.
His father shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“We’re Americans. They’re Americans. They wouldn’t, would they?”
His father looked uncertain. “I would hope not.”
“There’s an opening here,” said his mother, almost matter-of-factly. Kyle and his father joined her, noting the two foot gap.
“There’s one down here too!” called Dan. “There’s no way they’ll shoot us. We’re citizens. Let’s just—”
He was cut off by a loudspeaker on the helicopter.
“This is Colonel Jackson of the National Guard. You are in violation of a Federally mandated quarantine. You are ordered to turn around and return to your homes. If you do not turn around, we will be forced to open fire. Lethal force has been authorized.”
“Lethal force?” repeated Frank. “They’re going to kill us!”
Suddenly the most terrifying noise Kyle had ever heard erupted from the front of the helicopter, fire breathing from the guns mounted on it. They all ducked and it took a few moments for Kyle to realize they weren’t being shot at. He tentatively looked and saw the ground being torn apart.
“It’s just a warning shot!” yelled Kyle. “They’re not shooting at us!”
“To hell with this!” yelled Frank, grabbing his wife and bolting back toward the ditch, his child clutched in his arms.
“I’ve got kids, I can’t risk it!” yelled Dan, pushing through the opening, one arm raised in the air, the other clutching his baby, his wife doing the same.
The voice roared through the speaker again.
“Return to your homes and you won’t be harmed.” There was a pause then the voice sounded raised. “Now!”
Dan suddenly erupted from the hole in the hedge, his wife following, and they raced after Frank and Christa leaving only Kyle and his parents.
“Let’s go under the chopper, then to that farmhouse on the right. We might get lucky. There’s no way they’ll shoot us!”
Kyle’s dad nodded, then they pushed through the opening, rushing under the chopper, his mother seeming to have found her wings, adrenaline doing amazing things. They turned toward the farmhouse, pushing themselves as hard as they could toward the safety of the old but well maintained building. Kyle heard the chopper bank behind them in pursuit.
“They’re coming!” he yelled.
“Halt immediately! You are in violation of a mandatory quarantine. We are authorized to use deadly force. I say again, halt immediately, or we will open fire.”
They continued forward, then the terrifying roar of the guns erupted behind them. Kyle ducked, but didn’t stop running, instead helping his mother forward as the ground in front of them was shredded. His father slowed down, turning back to look at them.
“Keep going!” yelled his dad. “They won’t shoot us!”
The guns erupted again, this time ripping apart the field even closer to their position. Kyle wondered how close they might get before there was a risk of actually getting hit. The chopper was so close now that the wind from the blades thumping at the air was tossing the crops about, his hair whipping into his eyes, stinging his face.
“You have five seconds to comply, otherwise lethal force is authorized.” The voice lowered, finally sounding almost human. “Please stop. We have no choice but to fire. Don’t make me do it.”
Kyle’s dad slowed down, turning back to them, shaking his head. The farmhouse was tantalizingly close. If they could just make it there, there’s no way they’d be fired at. The chopper wouldn’t risk there being other innocent people inside.
And it was that thought that caused Kyle to almost stop in his tracks.
What are we doing?
A wave of nausea swept over him as he realized their selfishness. What if one of us is infected? They could infect those in the farmhouse, who had done nothing wrong. If they made it to his Uncle’s, they could infect them all.
This is wrong!
“Dad, stop!” he yelled just as what sounded almost like a whisper came from the speaker hovering behind them.
Kyle could hear the chopper repositioning as he called again for his father to stop, but either he couldn’t hear him or he wasn’t listening. Then suddenly from the corner of his eye Kyle saw two army vehicles racing down the road and he almost breathed a sigh of relief knowing they were about to be captured. The first vehicle pulled into the lane leading to the farmhouse then rounded the property, coming to a halt less than fifty feet from his father, soldiers jumping from the rear, surrounding them, their hazmat suits making them anonymous, terrifying.
Kyle’s dad fell to his knees, his hands clasped on top of his head as his mother dropped beside him, exhausted. Kyle saw one of the troops wave off the chopper, then he heard the helicopter bank and the thumping of the blades rapidly disappear into the distance.
Kyle dropped to his knees as two soldiers approached him. Conflicting emotions filled his heart, part of him disappointed they had been caught, the other relieved they had been, a growing part of his mind realizing what they were doing was wrong.
He just couldn’t believe this was happening in New Orleans.
Saints vs. Raiders, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana Outbreak Day #1 – Zero Hour
“Hey, what the hell are you doing back here?”
The voice, raised, echoed through the narrow utility room housing feeds into the cooling system for this portion of the massive Superdome. Mike Milner didn’t flinch, but his heart did skip a beat as he continued rotating the wrench. He was so close to completing his task, so close to his pay day, that there was no way he was going to allow some rent-a-cop to ruin his day.
“Look at my binder over there,” he said, jerking his head toward a scuffed black binder sitting atop an electrical cabinet. He heard the feet shuffle toward the binder as he twisted one last time, the connection sealed, his job almost done.
“What’s this shit?” asked the guard.
Apparently my paperwork isn’t in order.
“You need to come with me, buddy, until we get this sorted out.”
“No problem, officer.”
Milner reached into his pocket, gripping the small Walther PPKE he had hidden there. As he turned, a smile plastered on his face to set the poor bastard at ease, his hand came up in his pocket, and he squeezed the trigger.
The report was loud in the confined space, but as fortune would have it, something had the seventy-three thousand gathered on their feet, screaming at the night air.
It went unnoticed to all.
All except the poor sonofabitch who had walked in on him, as he gripped his chest, surprise scrawled across his face as he slowly sank to his knees.
“I’m really sorry about this,” said Milner. “But you shouldn’t have been so good at your job.”
Milner turned around and spun the valve on the canister he had just hooked into the cooling system, opening it wide. Within minutes the gas would be spread throughout the complex, and his job done. What he had actually hooked into the cooling system he had no clue. That was above his pay grade. He’d been hired to do a job, and that’s what he was doing. In his trade you didn’t ask questions because answers got you killed. So did curiosity.
Milner stuffed the body of the unfortunate guard behind the cooling unit and out of sight, leaving a small pool of blood on the floor. Removing a plastic bottle from his kit, he poured the contents out onto the blood stain, immediately turning the crimson puddle black, thickening it within moments. Now the blood looked like an oil stain, something that wouldn’t be unexpected in a utility closet.
Approaching the door, he fished his cellphone from his pocket and dialed the number to activate his diversion. Pressing Send, he counted to ten, then smiled as the commotion outside grew in intensity as his remote trigger fried a relay device at the Entergy New Orleans “vault” just outside the stadium, recreating the Super Bowl blackout.
I guess they never did fix the problem!
He smiled to himself as he turned the knob, stepping out into the darkness, the only light now from the emergency lighting system as the Superdome lost partial power. By the sounds of things, the game was delayed, and Milner could imagine the panic that must be setting in amongst some of the tens of thousands of fans in attendance, and if he knew the media, they’d be making a field day out of the situation, spreading the panic to the audience watching on television at homes and bars across the city.
But Milner didn’t really care. He was here for a payday. A big payday. This little job was netting him six figures. Half was already sitting in his Cayman account less a significant cash withdrawal now hidden in his apartment; the other half would be deposited tonight by his contact after a meet. Then he’d be out of New Orleans and off to the Dominican until the money ran out, then back for another gig.
It was a great life.
Milner strolled past the staff rushing by, wondering if they’d be able to get the power restored in time so the game could resume. He hoped so. After all, he had put a fin down on the Raiders to win.
He strolled by the guards, nodding to them as he passed, his tool kit swinging as he whistled a tune inspired by the concern surrounding him.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
And I feel fine.
New Orleans, Louisiana Outbreak Day #10
Tammy looked in the mirror at the face staring back at her. Gray, ashen, pale. Shit. And she felt like shit too. In fact, she felt worse than she could ever remember. The whites of her eyes were red with fatigue, her brow was covered in sweat, and there were deep black circles under her eyes.
And she was due at work in forty minutes.
She splashed some water on her face, the effort exhausting, but willed her way through it. Missing work wasn’t an option. She knew her boss was looking for an excuse to fire her after she had spurned the creep’s advances, and in today’s economy, a job was a job, whether it was good or not, and with a six year old son and a deadbeat father, she needed every penny she could scrape together just to keep them fed with a roof over their head, even if it meant working at a coffee shop fulltime and the Superdome whenever there was an event.
Maybe I’ll take Mom up on her offer and move in with her.
She knew her mother could use the help. She had just finished a battle with breast cancer, apparently successfully, and had a double-mastectomy to prevent any further threat. Tammy thought it was giving up on life, her mother still fairly young and attractive. Tammy’s dad had died in Afghanistan ten years ago, and her mom had mourned long and hard.
And it had been especially hard battling the cancer without him at her side. It had almost killed her, like it had grandma, but modern medicine and a will to see her grandson grow up had got her through it, and now she was cancer free.
But in the mirror, she reminded herself of how her mother looked on the bad days.
It’s not cancer, you idiot. Stop worrying!
She stumbled into the hallway, her son Jeffrey waiting at the door, and stuffed her feet in her shoes. Heading out the door, she hurried to the bus stop. The roar of the diesel engine behind her prompted her to raise her hand weakly, but not to turn and look, too exhausted to put the necessary effort into the muscles.
Thankfully her neighbor Grace held the bus, urging her on with one foot through the doors, the other on the ground. It took every ounce of her strength to cover the distance, Jeffrey pulling her most of the way, but she finally did, pulling herself up the steps and onto the bus. As she reached for her bus pass she felt the world spin, then go black as she collapsed onto the floor, Jeffrey crying by her side.
Isolation Ward, Interim Louisiana State University (LSU) Public Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana
It was a gray fog, terrifying. Tammy could see nothing but the gray, hear nothing but the void around her. And she couldn’t move. She could feel her heart slamming in her chest, the roar of her pulse filling her ears, drilling through the void, pushing her toward some new destination, a destination she didn’t know, a destination she feared as much as she did her current situation.
And beeping sounds.
She focused, cut through the fog, calmed the pounding of her heart, and with a jolt, the world flooded back, filling the void with the reality it had been protecting her from. She sat up with a gasp, something choking her. Her instinct was to cough, to rid herself of whatever was in her throat, and as she did so, she felt something attached to her face. She grabbed at it, trying to yank it away, but she felt hands seizing her, pushing her back down, and repositioning whatever she had pulled over her mouth.
“It’s okay, you’re safe,” said a soothing voice, a woman’s, a voice that reminded her of her grandmother when she was younger. “You’re in a hospital. What you’re feeling are breathing tubes. Just breathe normally, and you’ll get used to it very quickly, okay?”
Tammy opened her eyes, not realizing they had been squeezed shut. Her vision was blurred, and she blinked several times to try and clear it. She could see a form hovering over her, but the image didn’t clear.
“I can’t—” she began, but stopped, unable to talk with the tubes in her mouth.
“Don’t try to speak. I’ll get the doctor and he’ll explain the situation to you, okay?”
She nodded, the nurse slowly coming into focus, and as she stepped away, the room she was in snapped into clarity and she gasped, causing another bout of coughing. Recovered, she looked around. She was in a large ward, dozens of beds separated by maybe five feet, filled with women of varying ages, all looking like hell.
All looking exactly as she felt.
What’s going on here?
She felt her heart begin to slam in her chest as panic began to set in. A shadow leaned across her, blocking the overhead lighting, and she yelped as her eyes shifted from the misery surrounding her to the mask covered face of a doctor not much older than her if the lack of lines around his eyes were any indication.
This kid is going to take care of me?
She stifled her complaint, not that she could have vocalized it, and instead turned it inward to add to her misery.
Maybe if you had done something with your life, you too could have been a doctor.
“My name is Dr. Corkery. Don’t try to talk. You collapsed on the bus and were brought here earlier this morning. It looks like you have some sort of virus. Nothing to worry about, we’re treating you with antivirals.” He motioned to the rest of the room. “As you can see, there’s a bug going around. As a precaution we’re isolating everybody so it doesn’t spread.”
Suddenly she remembered what had happened. Leaving the house, getting on the bus, then blacking out.
Her eyes shot open and she tried to talk but the doctor held up his hand.
“Your son is alright. Your mother is here with him. I’ll try to arrange for you to talk to them in a little while, okay?”
She nodded in relief as Dr. Corkery was handed something that took his attention away from her. His eyes narrowed as he looked at what appeared to be an iPad or some sort of tablet computer. She desperately wanted to know what had him so concerned, but with these damned tubes down her throat, she couldn’t say a word.
“Is this correct?” he asked the nurse quietly.
Tammy couldn’t see the nurse, but apparently whatever he was looking at was confirmed.
“Okay. I’m calling it. Tell Dr. Newton to issue a Code Seven. We need all hands on deck. And we’ll need to notify the CDC, we might need some help on this one.”
Dr. Corkery turned back to Tammy, his eyes smiling.
“Looks like we have quite the flu outbreak going on! But don’t you worry, these things usually run their course within a week.”
The concern in her eyes wasn’t lost on the doctor.
“Don’t worry, it will fly by before you know it.”
He patted her shoulder and moved on to the next bed, leaving her fears unaddressed.
What about my job? I can’t afford to miss a week!
Dr. Fred Newton’s Office, Acting Administrator Interim LSU Public Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana
“Are you sure?”
Dr. Fred Newton screwed up his face, unconvinced. Corkery was young, and the young were prone to panic. It’s a flu outbreak for Christ’s sake! Every year it was the same thing. A bug would make its rounds, people would get sick, and the beds would fill with the elderly and asthmatics and others with preexisting conditions.
Nurse Ogawa nodded.
“That’s what he said.”
“You don’t call in the CDC for a flu outbreak.” He sighed. “But you do report the numbers.” He looked at the screen and his budget numbers which were looking so good. If the Code Seven state lasted more than a few days, that budget would be blown, and he’d be going cap in hand to the board for more. He chewed on his cheek for a moment, then turned back to his head nurse. “Fine. There’s no arguing with the volume. Code Seven it is, have the calls go out. Anyone in town and sober is to report to work. Set up the rotating schedule as per the plan.”
“And the CDC?”
“Send them their data as per protocol. Each morning.”
Ogawa left his office leaving Newton to stare at his spreadsheet, the smile that had been there gone. He positioned his cursor and began to update the spreadsheet for a one week outbreak of the flu.
Isolation Ward, Interim LSU Public Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana
Tammy’s bed had been pushed near the window of the isolation ward, her breathing tubes removed now that she was conscious and rehydrated. On the other side of the glass stood her mother, her son Jeffrey standing on a chair so he could see inside. Tammy had a smile etched on her face, determined to look strong for her little man, but each time she made eye contact with her mother she knew she wasn’t fooling her.
If this is a flu, it’s the worst flu I’ve ever had.
Or even heard about.
A flurry of nurses and the doctor she had seen earlier rushed by outside as she heard a commotion behind her. She tried to push herself up to look, but was too weak, instead all she could do was listen.
And it terrified her.
In amongst the cacophony of beeping machines, she could hear one with a steady tone, a tone she had heard enough on TV to know it meant someone’s heart had stopped. She could hear shouts but make no sense of them, the “visiting area” as she had come to think of this place isolated from the rest of the ward, separated enough to not be able to see anything back in the ward.
She looked at her mother and saw a tear escape her left eye, racing down her cheek toward her neck.
If this is just a flu, why are you crying?
“Why don’t you say goodbye to mommy, then go get yourself a candy bar and eat it over there, okay?” her mom said to Jeffrey, whose bored expression spread into a smile.
“Bye Mommy!” he said, hastily kissing the glass, then disappearing as he jumped off the chair.
“Bye dear!” said Tammy, knowing her precious son was probably out of earshot already. She looked at her mother. “What’s wrong? What aren’t you telling me?”
Her mother shook her head, closing her eyes and looking away.
Her mother looked back at her, her eyes now filled with tears, sending Tammy’s heart racing in fear. Her mother was a strong woman, the toughest she knew. She had been through the death of a husband and breast cancer. She was a survivor, and Tammy couldn’t recall the woman crying in all her years.
But today, she couldn’t hide it.
“What’s wrong?” demanded Tammy, the fear in her voice palpable, enough that she was glad Jeffrey was being spoiled with his favorite treat.
She could hear a deep breath through the speaker as her mother wiped her eyes with a tissue.
“I heard on the radio on the way here that there’s some sort of virus hitting the city.”
“Yeah, a flu. I’ll be fine in a few days.”
“Is that what they told you?”
Tammy’s eyebrows shot up at the question, then she had to admit she couldn’t remember. She rewound the events of the past few hours, but couldn’t be sure.
“I think so.”
Her mother turned away again, but spoke.
“On the radio they said people are dying.” Her voice cracked on the last word, and her shoulders heaved as a huge weight suddenly pressed on Tammy’s chest, the gravity of the situation hitting her as she noticed the panic that had been occurring in the ward had ceased.
And so had the steady tone from the heart monitor.
Did they save her, or did they turn it off because she died?
As her question echoed in her head, her heart stopped with a sudden realization as she replayed her journey to the visiting area.
She turned to mother.
Her mother turned to face her, eyes red, cheeks flushed.
“Did they say whether or not it was only affecting women?”
World Health Organization Conference on H5N1, Marseilles, France
“…and the results were remarkable. Our testing has shown no sign of the virus in eighty-three percent of our test subjects not receiving the placebo, and a massive reduction in the viral count in the remaining subjects. We have extended the study on these remaining subjects to see if we can further reduce their blood counts, and results are promising. In fact, if I may be so bold at a conference such as this, the results are stunning.”
Dr. Hermann Kapp paused to take a sip of water as the delegates he was addressing absorbed the bombshell he had just dropped on them. An antiviral that actually worked, worked quickly, and worked on nearly 100% of the patients. It was still probably a decade away from production, and would need to go through extensive testing, but their approach was unique, and impossible only a few years ago, the technology and knowhow simply nonexistent.
The patents had been applied for, but not yet awarded, therefore the details on how they had accomplished their miraculous feat wouldn’t be revealed today, but the generalities should be enough to have the medical community abuzz for years.
And our competitors hell-bent on stealing the secret.
He returned the glass to the podium, and noticed his smartphone sitting on the dais vibrate with a message. He chose to ignore it.
“How we were able to accomplish this I cannot get into, obviously, however I can say this. We have developed a process that allows us to target specific gene sequences, and annihilate the cells displaying these sequences. So when we have a viral outbreak, we simply—and it is by no means simple”—chuckles filled the room—“we simply need to decode the virus, program our antiviral to target the specific gene sequence, then begin mass production and distribution. We estimate our turnaround time would be less than one week from identification to start of production.”
His phone vibrated again and he took a sip of water as he swiped his finger across the display, then brought up the message.
TO ALL: Another outbreak has occurred. This one much more serious. Must discuss immediately.
Kapp’s heart leapt, but he kept his cool as he finished his drink, placing the cup down and looking back at the audience. Perhaps years from now, when historians examined the footage of this moment, they might see the slight surprise registered on his face, the change in pallor, the quickening of his breathing, but that assumed the secret got out, and assumed they had been unable to stop it.
Then again, if they were unable to stop this madness, there might very well be nobody left to care about this moment in history.
Conference Room C, Interim LSU Public Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana
Dr. Douglas Corkery massaged his temples, his elbows resting on the arms of his chair as he listened to the hospital administrator, Dr. Fred Newton, drone on about the budget and how we risked going over it should the infection continue.
I hate bureaucrats!
He let out a loud sigh, pushing himself up straight as the room turned to the source of the exasperation.
“Do you have something to add, Doug?”
Corkery nodded as he took a deep breath, trying to control his frustration.
“Yes, I do.” He pointed at the display showing budget projections. “Why are we in here, wasting time, hearing about budgets, when we have patients down the hall dying? Forgive my language, but who gives a damn about budget numbers? Deal with those after the fact. We are doctors! It is our job to take care of these people, whatever the cost.” He pushed a stack of folders toward the center of the table. “I’ve got thirty-eight patients in isolation already, with more coming in every hour, and a second one just died, with over two dozen looking like they won’t last the day. We have an outbreak of something we haven’t seen before, and we need help!” He looked around the table in earnest, the doctors assembled nodding their heads in agreement, the bean counters avoiding his stare. His head whipped back to Newton. “When can we expect the CDC to arrive?”
Newton cleared his throat, the uncomfortable expression on his face raising alarm bells.
“Please tell me you contacted the CDC.”
All eyes were now on Newton.
“They’ll get our daily stats sent to them in the morning as per protocol.”
“What?” exclaimed Corkery. “We have people dying, of what we don’t know, and you haven’t elevated our status? Protocol clearly dictates you contact the CDC of any outbreak! What the hell were you thinking? You used to be a doctor once, remember your goddamned oath!” Corkery could feel his face burn with rage, a rage he couldn’t recall ever feeling before. This was insanity, bureaucratic insanity that would cost lives.
There was an uncomfortable pause after his outburst, which was finally ended by Newton standing up, leaning forward on his knuckles.
“I don’t need to defend myself to you,” he growled. “I’ve been a doctor for over thirty years, and you haven’t even seen your first decade. Contacting the CDC is my call, and I’ll do it when I feel it’s necessary.”
Corkery’s mind was reeling. Why won’t he contact the CDC? Is it ego? Is it that he can’t admit a mistake? That had to be it. He had known Newton to dig in his heels from time to time, even if it was obvious he was wrong, but never on a medical matter so serious. For a doctor to put ego ahead of the wellbeing of his patients was inexcusable. Career ending if word got out.
And if this outbreak was as bad as he thought it was, Newton would be answerable to authorities far higher than anyone in this room.
And with this virus appearing to target only women, which was unheard of in his experience, they could be dealing with something far worse, which would have Newton answerable to the ultimate authority should not calling in the CDC cause this to spread even farther.
He’d be answerable to God himself.
Corkery’s pager buzzed on his hip, as did every other doctor’s in the room. He grabbed it.
Code Blue, ICU 2.
He jumped from the table and headed out the door, followed by all of the on-duty doctors, leaving Newton and his bean counters to stare after them.
Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port Hotel, Marseilles, France
Dr. Hermann Kapp closed the door, locking it securely, then did a quick survey of the room to make certain he was alone. Satisfied, he closed the drapes, turned on the lights, then powered on his laptop, facing the screen away from the window, its casing designed to block anything from being able to read the screen through the cover, and generating enough interference to prevent any other type of electronic eavesdropping.
It was the latest Dell Latitude E6540 laptop, state of the art, secure, rugged, impervious to tampering and monitoring if used properly, with a layer of customization not available to the general public.
And the amount of training he had received on its security features had seemed ridiculous at first, but with what had been happening over the past year, they had been able to keep the secret from getting out, despite operatives spread around the planet searching for the culprit. Unfortunately he must be using similar equipment, as they had no trace of him, and he seemed to be able to operate with impunity.
But eventually he would slip up, Kapp and his associates just prayed it wouldn’t be too late, the man’s demands, and demonstrations, continually more outlandish, and more severe, each time.
Kapp expertly operated the laptop and soon had a grid of faces, several still blank and logging in as he had just done. Nothing was said until the final board member had connected to the secure server.
The chairman spoke first, his image expanding to fill a quarter of the screen as his microphone activated, Hans Schreiber, Chairman displayed under the image, the BioDyne Pharma logo prominently displayed behind him. Kapp had known Chairman Schreiber for over a decade, before he had been elected Chairman, and before Kapp had even been on the board. It was Kapp’s work on the genetically targeted antiviral serum that had earned him his position. It had made Kapp a rich man, the stock options and bonuses staggering.
But this was big pharma. Mega billion dollar deals, mega billion dollar drug sales, and this particular drug would revolutionize the world—making them all ridiculously rich.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll keep this brief as information is just beginning to come in. But is appears as if Dr. Urban has released another variation of the antiviral, this one on a scale far higher than we expected.”
Murmuring filled Kapp’s headset, his own mouth remaining clamped shut as his heart raced with the implications. What genetic sequence has he targeted this time? Dr. Victor Urban had been a brilliant scientist. Was still a brilliant scientist. It was his idea they had been working on for the past decade. It was he who had figured out how to design the drug to target specific genetic sequences, then destroy the cells with that sequence.
It was brilliant, outside of the box research that would change the world. And like most out of the box thinking, it was devised by a man who was borderline insane. At least it was a running joke in the lab that he was mad until that fateful day when he didn’t show up for work eighteen months ago.
It was six months later that the first terrifying message had arrived, and when they had all discovered it wasn’t just madness that consumed Dr. Urban, but greed as well.
“What kind of scale are we talking?” asked Kapp, the first to recover from the shock, but like the rest, equally scared to hear the answer.
“We don’t know yet, however he’s promised a target of half a percent.”
“Half a percent!” exclaimed one of the others.
“Where?” asked Kapp.
“We haven’t got that information yet, but based upon previous releases, I think we have to take him at his word.”
Nods filled the screen as Kapp leaned back in his chair, massaging his temples with one hand, his eyes closed. There had been two previous attacks, or “releases” of the antiviral. The first had been in a theatre in Los Angeles, which was when they had discovered he had been able to aerosolize it, an incredible achievement.
The man is a genius.
The entire theatre had been exposed to the antiviral, which when inhaled, immediately went to work, seeking out the genetic sequence it had been programmed for. In the first case, he had targeted natural redheads, which was only about two percent of the California population, and with the antiviral designed to break down within an hour when exposed to the air, and non-transmissible once inside the body, it hadn’t spread beyond those watching the 7pm showing of Red Tails.
Fortunately only three had been exposed, and all died within ten days, in separate hospitals, with symptoms suggesting pneumonia.
No one noticed the pattern except the board, and only because Urban had notified them of what to look for after they had fulfilled his first demand for payment in exchange for information. It was only one million dollars, paid to a bank in the Cayman Islands, and came with the promise he would do nothing for six months. Then six months had passed, and another message.
LaGuardia Airport in New York City. This time he targeted Marfan Syndrome, a rare disorder of the connective tissues that affects about one in five thousand people. A few had died, spread across the world, with no one except BioDyne Pharma noticing. But it had been the largest scale attack yet.
And there had been a mutation.
The virus had been transmitted beyond the initial carriers.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, and BioDyne’s scientists theorized—since they didn’t have a sample—it was due to the alterations made in aerosolizing the compound. It had mutated and found a way to transmit beyond the host, which was terrifying. The antiviral was specifically designed to not be transmittable. After all, a cure that could spread would reduce their profits.
And this was what was driving the panic now. The authorities hadn’t been called in, but millions were being spent to try and track Urban down. All in the name of profits. If it were revealed a madman was loose with a BioDyne drug capable of killing anyone with a specific gene sequence, their stock would plummet, and the company would probably never survive.
And it had to, for it was the only hope to stop Urban, especially after this apparent mutation.
The next six months of peace were bought with ten million dollars of blood money, and that six months ended ten days ago.
“Has there been any word from the CDC?” asked Harris, one of the oldest members of the board.
“Nothing. Which is odd if Urban is telling us the truth.”
“Unless it’s mutated again and taking longer than usual,” replied Harris.
“Let’s hope that hasn’t happened.” Chairman Schreiber sighed, taking off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know what to do, people. This time he wants one hundred million. We can afford it of course, but next time can we expect one billion? And where does paying him get us? It buys us six more months to do what? We’ve had no success in finding him. We’re no closer today than we were a year ago when this started.”
Hyatt, their most senior researcher, cleared his throat and his image expanded on the screen. He scratched his nose, then leaned into the camera, the effect disconcerting, his geek visage, pimply and unkempt, taking on a fishbowl appearance that belied his genius. He had been Urban’s protégé, and would probably equal or surpass him someday.
When Hyatt spoke, people listened.
“I wouldn’t quite say that.”
Isolation Ward, Interim LSU Public Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana
Dr. Douglas Corkery drew the sheet up over yet another woman, dead in her prime as several of his colleagues did the same with their patients. They were at seven dead now, with no signs of recovery in anyone. This was getting ridiculous. Scratch that. It is ridiculous!